Comment: The Fallacy of the Coalition Government in the Maldives

Integrity and ethical behavior has never been a cornerstone of politics in the Maldives throughout its history.  In fact, Maldivian political history is littered with examples of treacherous behavior, shifting allegiances, banishments to remote islands and  assassinations as the elites of the country jostled to assume, retain, or regain the seat of power.

Not much has changed since the country ditched the sultanate system in favour of a republic in 1968 – a move aimed more at consolidating the power of one man than changing the citizenry’s political philosophy. Indeed, it was the continuation of the sultanate by another name, and probably conferred even more power on the newly titled president than the outgoing sultan.

Forty years later, in 2008, when the country once again underwent a political awakening with a new constitution allowing for political parties, independent institutions and newly guaranteed freedoms for the individual, there was much hope and expectation that, finally, the people will reign supreme in the country’s political arena.

Yet, in the aftermath of two cycles of presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections under the new constitution, a recurring reality clearly reveals that there is always one man above all else who demands and commands absolute fidelity from the lesser beings who are expected to – and d0 – serve his every bidding (constitutional limitations notwithstanding.)  And that is the person who occupies the seat of the presidency.

Raise your voice or dare to dance with another partner, you will soon be dumped into the dustbin of political history – discarded, forgotten, and laid to waste – your once dreamed of political fortunes fast receding into oblivion. The president needs no partners and has no reason to dilute his powers with ‘coalition’ co-presidents, even if it had been their support, sweat and financial assistance that had been the raison d’être that originally catapulted him to the presidential seat in the first place.

One is reminded of the age old Maldivian proverb, ‘No need of the tree, once the banana bunch has been plucked’.

The concept of a ‘coalition government’ is actually anathema to the Maldives’ political culture and attitudes. Whether it is a sultan or a president, it has always been a ‘one-man show’ when it comes to the actual wielding of power – a phenomenon that became even more pronounced in the post-independence presidential politics in the country.

There had never been, nor did the prevailing political system reward, ‘winner take all’ or encourage coalition building, especially for the president who can and does take all, once safely placed in the seat of power.

Coalition of the unwilling

The idea of building political coalitions gained momentum in the Maldives political scene in the aftermath of the 2008 constitution, which required that an incoming president must obtain a 50 per cent plus 1 majority of the voters in the election to be declared the winner – and provided for a run-off election in the event no presidential candidate obtained that magical figure in the first round.

That the impulse for coalition was driven more by the compulsion for denying an adversary the presidency, rather than by the necessity to retain power once in office has been clearly demonstrated during the developments that took place after both the presidential elections in 2008 and 2013, even when two different parties and personalities emerged the winner in the respective elections.

It should now be obvious to even a political neophyte in the country, that entering into a coalition agreement, even if the agreement is signed with God Almighty as the witness, is not and will never be a power sharing agreement that can be subjected to any effective enforcement.  Its efficacy lies at the total discretion and mercy of the person occupying the presidential seat.

Much ink has flowed in the media in recent days, and probably even more angst will be displayed in the days to come, as the recently jilted ‘coalition partner’ loudly proclaims its right to a ‘fair share’ of the government largesse, and demands ‘consultative status’ on important matters of governance based on the ‘coalition agreement’ signed between the two political parties in the presence of God Almighty prior to the second round of the presidential elections in 2013.

The party appears to be oblivious to the stark naked fact that this was an agreement that had no constitutional basis and can command no legal status – nor can it be considered a document having the status of a holy writ, considering that the voluntarily entered union was no more than a manifest symbol of a dastardly collective imperative to deny power to the common adversary.

This was not a sincere attempt at good governance, even if couched in the language of nationalism and religious fervour. That this was a marriage of extreme inconvenience that was doomed to accelerate towards abject failure once the presidential and parliamentary elections were over was evident to anyone with even a cursory appreciation of the acutely adversarial Maldivian political environment of recent times. Indeed, it didn’t take too long for the shine to wear off the coalition victory cup and cries of ‘foul’ to reverberate loudly across the country’s political sphere.

What is really astounding in this whole farce that had been promoted as the ‘coalition government’ is that it is the same political leader and his minions that have fallen victim to their political gullibility if not stupidity in both the 2008 and 2013 presidential elections. Perhaps they should spend some time re-reading the chapter in the 2008 constitution on the election of the president, along with the powers and privileges granted constitutionally to the elected president in the Maldives. That should make certain incontrovertible facts abundantly clear.

‘One man show’

Firstly, the president of the Maldives is elected in his individual capacity, not as the representative of a particular group of people. He may certainly run for the office as the representative of a party who has endorsed his bid for the presidency, but his candidacy is certainly not dependent on this fact. This fact is clearly borne out in the 2008 elections, when one of the four presidential candidates ran as an independent.

Indeed, once elected, he is numero uno in the country – presidential powers, privileges and prerogatives granted by the constitution are for him alone and not for sharing with co-partners – just as he alone, and no one else, is accountable and answerable to the parliament for any acts of omission or commission  during his term of office. It should also be remembered that the president is the only person who is elected nationwide and thus enjoys a national mandate.

Secondly, the mandate to govern for a constitutionally prescribed time period is given to the newly elected president, not his party.  The constitution does not recognise ‘coalition partners’ or ‘co-presidents’ – indeed it does not provide for a power sharing arrangement either with a party or with other individual(s) or group.  The extent to which any one of these parties may influence his policies or style of governance is entirely at the discretion of the elected president and is likely to depend on his own assessment of the political costs or benefits of continuing to heed or reject their demands.

Thirdly, the right to hire and fire political officials is yet again the sole prerogative of the president albeit with certain constitutional limitations. While his choices may be determined by a combination of factors, including his campaign promises, party affiliations or any other innumerable dynamics, the final decision to appoint or dismiss a person in his administration lies solely with him.

Indeed, he is not and cannot be bound by any other limitation than what is imposed by law in his exercise of this right, whether or not he had made any ‘arrangements’ during the campaign.  Such arrangements have no legal standing whatsoever. That there may be a moral obligation is quite another matter and irrelevant to the legitimacy of his presidency.

A ‘figment of the imagination’

Fourthly, given the Maldives constitution quite clearly stipulates the separation of powers between the executive and legislature, the president is not dependent on the support of the parliament to retain office. Lacking parliamentary support, he may of course find it extremely difficult to get legislations of his choice passed through the parliament and could become a lame duck president, but he would still remain the president unless of course he is impeached – but that’s quite another story.

This fact was made quite clear during the period between February 2012 and November 2013, when the then president did not have a single member of his own party in the parliament but continued to enjoy the perks, prerogatives, and powers of the office.

Fifthly, the cabinet of ministers appointed by the president are constitutionally bound to serve him – members of the cabinet are also accountable to the parliament in the exercise of their duties and responsibilities, which is the execution of the president’s policies.  While their names may have been recommended to the president for consideration of a particular post based on some pre-arranged understanding with certain political allies, once appointed to their posts, cabinet ministers cannot have another unelected master to whom they are expected to report and be accountable. The president can, will, and should demand complete and undivided loyalty from his cabinet.

The persistent claims, therefore, of the Maldives government being a ‘coalition government’ is in fact a misnomer and a willful misrepresentation to the wider electorate, of the political reality of the current system of governance in the country. It has never been a coalition government, at least not constitutionally and not in its true sense – neither in 2008 nor in 2013.

However, truth be said, it has been politically advantageous to speak of ‘coalition partners’ prior to the election, but as have been proved time and again, a ‘coalition government’  is nothing more than a figment of the imagination of the minds of political leaders. That they have managed to sell this idea to the electorate twice over is indicative of the continued political naiveté of the Maldivian electorate.

Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed was the former Maldives Ambassador to the UN and defacto non-resident Ambassador to the US.

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Adhaalath Party “is still with the coalition”

The religious conservative Adhaalath Party has issued a statement reaffirming its support for the governing coalition.

President Abdulla Yameen formed a coalition government in November after securing a second round victory with the support of the Jumhooree Party (JP), the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and the Adhaalath Party.

According to local media, Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) had promised a 33 percent stake in government and a 35 percent share in upcoming local council and parliamentary elections to the Jumhooree Party. The JP’s decision to support the Yameen after its candidate’s defeat in the first round of the election proved decisive.

However, while PPM and JP appear to be contesting elections as a team, the Adhaalath Party had previously announced it will field candidates for both elections separately. Speaking to the press in November, Adhaalath said it will contest 104 of the 1118 local council seats and 32 of the 84 parliamentary seats.

According to the Adhaalath Party, it’s statement comes in response to rumors the party had left the coalition.

“The Adhaalath party fully supports the government. The party is still with the coalition,” the statement read

Moreover, the party said it is currently working with the coalition to field candidates for the upcoming elections.

“The Adhaalth Party wishes to work with the coalition in the local council and parliamentary elections. The party is doing lots of work in this regard,” read the statement.

Meanwhile, former President Mohamed Nasheed of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has repeatedly said a coalition government will not work in the Maldives’ presidential system of government.

Nasheed came to power in 2008, defeating 30-year authoritarian leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom with the backing of a coalition of parties including the JP, the DQP and the Adhaalath Party.

However, within a month, the JP left the Nasheed administration. The coalition fell apart and the parties fielded separate seats for parliamentary elections in May 2009 resulting in a majority for Gayoom’s party at the time – the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party.

In February 2012, the JP, DQP and Adhaalath Party joined Gayoom’s newly established PPM in ousting Nasheed.

Speaking to the media on November 30, Nasheed said: “We have received 105,000 votes [in the second round of presidential polls] because we say we do not want to divide the cabinet, because we say we do not want to divide up the government.”


President’s coalition denies Adhaalath Party leadership “dissatisfied” with campaign

The religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) has yet to overtly raise concerns over the manner in which President Dr Mohamed Waheed is campaigning ahead of September’s presidential election, despite media reports suggesting the party is considering backing out of the coalition.

Abdulla Yazeed, a spokesperson on the media team of President Waheed’s election campaign, told Minivan News “no dissatisfaction” has been raised by the AP at a leadership level concerning its campaigning.

However, the spokesperson said media speculation over dissatisfaction by certain parties in the president’s coalition had seen the number of campaign activities increased.

The claims were made after the AP’s consultation council reportedly decided to leave the coalition if campaign activities did not pick up.

AP President Sheikh Imran Abdullah was quoted in local media as saying that the party’s consultation council held a meeting on Thursday (July 4) to discuss a motion submitted by three members concerning the AP’s future in the coalition.

“The consultation council decided tonight for the leadership to seek a solution because the coalition’s activities are not progressing and if a solution is not found that we might have to leave the coalition,” Imran was quoted as saying in newspaper Haveeru.

He added that the coalition’s campaign was at a standstill.

Responding to the claims, President Waheed’s Gaumee Itthihad Party (GIP) Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza yesterday told Sun Online that “some members of the AP” wished to remain in the coalition, a decision he claimed would be backed by the majority of the party.

Both Sheikh Imran and Abbas were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Coalition Spokesperson Yazeed told Minivan News that a number of campaign activities were already underway by the president’s supporters, including the recent launch of manifesto policies and a door-to-door meeting with the public both in Male’ and the outer atolls to bolster support for the president.

“The coalition has a member base of 45,000 – equivalent to that of the Maldivian democratic Party (MDP),” he claimed.

With President Waheed having departed on an official visit to Sri Lanka yesterday (July 5), his running mate, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, has been campaigning in Shaviyani Atoll in recent days.

Speaking at a rally on the island of Kanditheemu, Thasmeen was reported in local media as pledging that a Waheed government would establish pre-schools with adequate capacities and highly trained teachers on every inhabited island in the country. There are 196 inhabited islands in the Maldives.

Thasmeen and DRP Parliamentary Group Leader MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom were not responding to calls at time of press.

Meanwhile, current Housing Minister and AP Secretary General Dr Mohamed Muiz today took to social media service Twitter to express disappointment over not being informed of the tour of Shaviyani Atoll by other coalition members.

He later removed the tweet.

PPM criticism

President Waheed’s campaigning has also come under criticism from the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) in recent months.

While the party has continued to support President Waheed as part of his coalition government, MP Ahmed Nihan last month said the PPM remained concerned at what it alleged was his continued use of state funds and resources to support campaigning for the coalition.

“This is our one crucial concern. President Waheed needs to facilitate a free and fair election,” he said.


President’s Office dismisses two ministers at behest of DQP

The President’s Office has today dismissed Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal and Minister of State for Economic Development Abdulla Ameen from the government at the insistence of their former party.

The President’s Office said the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), part of the present coalition government, had requested the dismissal of both men, as well as recommending replacements for their positions. The names of the suggested replacements had not been revealed to the public at time of press.

A statement released by the President’s Office said that the positions of deputy tourism minister and minister of state for economic development were assigned to the DQP as part of the conditions under which President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s coalition government was formed.

The present government, formed by a number of former opposition parties, came to power following the controversial transfer of power in February, 2012, when former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned from office following a violent mutiny by sections of the police and military.

Election support

Mohamed Maleeh Jamal told Minivan News that he had been informed of his dismissal today via a phone call from the President’s Office.

He alleged that both former State Minister Ameen and himself had been sacked for refusing to back President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s election campaign, claiming he could see no other reason for the dismissal.

Although Maleeh said he was yet to receive an official termination notice confirming his dismissal, he expressed his belief that he had been fired because of his support for the presidential candidate of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), MP Abdulla Yameen.

He said that he had not been surprised by his dismissal after pledging support to the PPM, adding that he would not allow “the fear” of losing his government post to change his mind on whom he believed was the best candidate to back in the election.

“To bring the nation forward, we need a strong government in order to boost investor confidence in the country and bring about economic stability,” Maleeh said. “I believe there is only one candidate who can do this and it is the reason I have decided to join the PPM and support Yameen.”

He argued that the new constitution adopted in August 2008 guarantee that no citizen should be scared of making a democratic decision over the fear of losing a job, adding that he had nonetheless decided to sacrifice his government position to back his preferred presidential candidate.

DQP Leader Dr Hassan Saeed was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Former DQP Deputy Leader Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, who was dismissed last month as home minister by the government after announcing his decision to stand as the running mate of PPM candidate Yameen, today slammed President Waheed for the dismissing the two ministers.

Writing on Twitter, Dr Jameel questioned the president’s capability to serve as a leader of the nation by allowing the dismissals of Maleeh and Ameen from the government.

Speaking to local media, he later denied the government’s claim that the DQP had been exclusively allocated the positions of deputy tourism minister and minister of state for economic development within the government.

The PPM said following Dr Jameel’s dismissal last month that it would continue to support President Waheed’s administration, despite condemning what it called the the “harsh and abrupt” sacking.

The PPM, the minority party in the People’s Majlis with the highest number of MPs after the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), has since accused President Waheed of campaigning unfairly for September’s election by using state funds and resources.

Earlier this month, the party also slammed the manner in which President Waheed opted to terminate an airport development contract with Indian infrastructure group GMR last year, accusing him of failing to heed its advice on first negotiating with the developer.

However, the party was accused at the time of making “contradictory statements” on the GMR issue by coalition partner Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), which is backing Waheed in September’s election.

PPM MP and Spokesperson Ahmed Nihan was not responding to calls at time of press.


DRP deputy criticises capability of certain government officials

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader Ibrahim Shareef has criticised certain elements within the present government to local media for not making “adequate efforts” to address the country’s recent economic and political upheavals.

Shareef claimed in local newspaper Haveeru that some top officials in the present coalition government – of which the DRP is one of several parties represented – had not shown themselves to be “capable” or “proficient”.

According to the report, Shareef expressed particular concern over the conduct of the Foreign Ministry, which he alleged had not sufficiently detailed the current situation in the Maldives since the government came to power.  The opposition Madivian Democratic Party (MDP) has claimed that it was replaced by the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan in a “coup d’etat” on February 7.  The government has denied the accusations.

Shareef also reportedly raised concerns over previous Foreign Ministry accusations that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) had sided with the now opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – a claim he did not agree with.

Shareef told local media that despite the “major achievement” of the coalition remaining in power for its first 100 days, it had been difficult for the DRP to “execute it policies and beliefs” in line with other parties.

He claimed that he was confident that several ministries overseen by DRP representatives, which include areas such as finance and tourism, were functioning “efficiently”.